A fight for safety

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Jamal Mayers would rather get punched in the nose than take a slash in the face.

As such, the Maple Leafs forward is willing to take the risks that come with fighting in the NHL. Calls for everything from banning fighting at all levels of hockey to tightening chin straps have been debated since the death early Friday of Don Sanderson, the Whitby Dunlops player who was in a coma after his head hit the ice during a fight on Dec. 12.

Sanderson's helmet came off and when he fell and smacked his head, he was knocked unconscious. The 21-year-old reportedly was the first player to die as a direct result of an injury that was suffered during a fight.

"I think any time you get into a fight, (getting hurt) is part of the anxiety," Mayers said. "You're always nervous, but that is what fuels you, that is part of it. You understand the risks."

STICKS AS WEAPONS

Take fighting out of hockey, Mayers figured, and watch the stick incidents rise. Mayers, however, respects that the arguments on both sides of the fighting issue have been given legs again.

"I'm sure the sociologists out there don't really understand why we fight in hockey," he said. "It eliminates the use of the stick. It's the only sport where a stick can be used as a weapon."

A straw poll after the morning skate yesterday among the Leafs who fight revealed that Mayers' view is the consensus. Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil, who was tied for sixth in the NHL before last night with 88 penalty minutes, refused to comment.

Leafs forward Ryan Hollweg was the recipient of a stick to the face courtesy of Chris Simon a couple of years ago, and can't envision a day when fighting is gone. Hollweg was not seriously hurt in the Simon incident, which occurred after Hollweg hit Simon into the boards.

UNFORTUNATE LOSS

"It's unfortunate that we lost somebody, but you can't think about it (on the ice)," Hollweg said. "Fighting is a controlled part of the game. When two guys go at it, it's (usually) two guys who are prepared. Sticks flying up around the face is when guys can really get hurt. If something happens, guys should be able to square it up."

The Leafs recalled forward Kris Newbury yesterday from the Toronto Marlies because coach Ron Wilson wanted to add a dash of aggressiveness to the lineup. Once GM Brian Burke starts making moves, expect a tougher group of Leafs. It's the way Burke went in Anaheim and he wants to bring some brawn to Toronto.

"We feel for Don's family," Newbury said. "We're men out there, and we know accidents happen."


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